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Still reeling the effects of the Sykes-Picot accords

28 December 2013 15:00 (UTC+04:00)
Still reeling the effects of the Sykes-Picot accords

By Claude Salhani

Senior editor of the English service of Trend Agency

If the French and British politicians who lent their names to the infamous treaty that divvied up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I found the concept of tracing borders fairly simple, the reality on the ground is a very different matter.

Indeed, the repercussions of what appears to be haphazardly drawn straight lines in the sand by Messieurs Sykes and Georges-Picot are still being felt to this day. Family and tribal loyalties do not stop at a demarcation line simply because some functionaries at the Quai d'Orsay and Whitehall thought it best to conjure up imaginary borders.

No consideration was given when tracing frontiers where they did to the division of clans and tribes. In the decades to come these would continue to owe their loyalty to clans and tribes rather than to the nation state they fell under.

The devastating civil war raging now for more than two years in Syria or the precarious political climate in Lebanon today, where the concept of uniting under one flag is passed over in favor of fighting for one's immediate family, clan, tribe, sect and religion is a prime example of the absence of the notion of unifying as a nation.

Just yesterday Mohammad Shattah, a former Lebanese finance minister was killed in a car bombing in the center of Beirut. While no one has claimed responsibility for the sordid attack - nor is anyone likely to - those who killed the former minister clearly did not do this for the benefit of the country.

The concept of sharing resources, of sharing a country, of sharing power is entirely foreign.

It's a grab all or nothing game in which the losers lose more than just power. They loose their lives and those of their families too.

Why else would the Syrian government opt for the total destruction of their country, allow the deaths of more than 150,000 of their citizens, the maiming of possibly twice as many people and forcing some six to seven million to become refugees?

Would the Syrian people be better off today had the president stepped down at the very start of the conflict and avoided the tragedy that is Syria today? No doubt that Syria, as a nation, would have fared better without this terrible war. However, the Alawite community would have suffered as the other communities would seek to avenge the past irregularities committed by the Alawites while they held power.

The Arab world requires several decades, if not longer, before it can reach the level of political maturity where Europe, North America and parts of Asia are today; countries where the people have understood the importance of national unity over ethnic and religious affiliations.

As this year ends it is safe to assume that violence will continue to plague Syria (and other parts of the Middle East) so long as the antagonists place their hatred of each other above the love they may have for their children.

It is also safe to assume that there are bound to be more targeted killings in Lebanon where Mohammad Shattah, the assassinated minister was recently quoted as saying that in Beirut "no one is safe, no place is safe."

One may expand on that thought to conclude that so long as the people living within the confines of the delineated borders as drawn out by Sir Mark Sykes and Monsieur Francois George-Picot continue to offer their loyalty to foreign powers, entities and place the importance of the nation state at bottom of the list, no one, not only in Beirut but in the entire Middle East will be safe. Just as no place in the greater Middle East will be safe. The challenge is to either accept the frontiers as they are and construct solid nations within them, or have the courage to admit failure to live together and re-draw those lines.

Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. He is senior editor of the English service of the Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter

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